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winchelsea bonfire boyes

Who we are and what we do

The Bonfire Boyes have organised the annual Bonfire Night celebrations in Winchelsea since 1996, reviving a tradition that is particularly strong in Sussex. Since 1999, we have staged bonfires in Rookery Field. Although a small society, the Winchelsea Bonfire Boyes have earned a reputation for putting on magnificent firework displays. The event is very popular with families, as the Bonfire Night celebrations in neighbouring towns like Rye and Battle are very crowded, and can be intimidating for small children.

Crowd watching the Bonfire at Winchelsea

The Bonfire Boyes also put on special firework displays for national celebrations like the Queen's Golden Jubilee, the 50th anniversaries of VE and VJ Days, and at the Winchelsea street party for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. They also mark the start and finish of the two-minute silence on Remembrance Day in Winchelsea by firing maroons. Winchelsea Bonfire Boyes have also organised the commemoration of the centenaries of the deaths in the First World War of the 10 men listed on the Winchelsea War Memorial by arranging for a bugler to play the Last Post at sunset on each of the days, from 24 January 2015 to 5 September 2018. We have invited families of the men to lay wreaths.

Fireworks at Winchelsea Fireworks at Winchelsea: golden aerial burst Fireworks at Winchelsea

The Winchelsea Bonfire Boyes are a member of the Sussex Bonfire Council.

Bonfire Night

Bonfire Night begins with the Guy being paraded through the village on a cart accompanied by a torchlight procession and marches through the village to the Rookery Field, led by our drummers. The Guy is then placed on top of the bonfire and we recite the Bonfire Prayer, after which, torches are thrust into the bonfire to light it. In 2009, we burnt our first effigy. We're not sure if we will have one every year.

Drummers leading the Bonfire Night parade at Winchelsea The Guy being led through Winchelsea

After the Guy has been burnt, there is a firework display. Since 2004, the fireworks have been set up and fired by professional pyrotechnicians. Their participation permits larger and more spectacular fireworks than would otherwise be allowed. You can see more pictures of Bonfire Night 2009 in the photogallery.

Bonfire effigy 2009: MP as a pig in a trough Bonfire effigy burning 2009

Winchelsea Bonfire Boyes do not advertise Bonfire Night. Please note that anyone with personal fireworks or alcohol, anyone behaving irresponsibly and any unaccompanied children will be barred from the procession and the bonfire field. If you join the procession and/or come into the bonfire field to watch the bonfire and firework display, it will be at your own risk. And remember, the bonfire field is uneven (it is a field!) and it will be dark.

Fireworks at Winchelsea: multiple aerial bursts Fireworks at Winchelsea: more aerial bursts

The Winchelsea Bonfire Prayer

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes
'twas his intent
To blow the King and Parliament;
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch't
With a dark lantern and burning match.


Bonfire Night Painting
Bonfire Night by Lucia, age 3

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What happening to Bonfire Night in Winchelsea?

There were no events in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, we cancelled because of a very poor weather forecast (why did we believe weather men?). But in 2012, we were refused access to Rookery Field, in which we have held the bonfire since 1999, by the National Trust's tenant farmer. We do not know why. It was suggested that Natural England objected (the farm has a Higher Level Stewardship agreement with Natural England) but Natural England have denied this. We have not been able to gain a meeting with the farmer. The site of the bonfire in Rookery Field is the only site in Winchelsea for which we can get the necessary Scheduled Ancient Monument consent from English Heritage.

The Bonfire Boyes and the commemoration of the Great War

On the War Memorial in Winchelsea, there are 10 names from the First World War. It is recorded that they died between 24 January 1915 and 5 September 1918. The Bonfire Boyes have commissioned a bugler to play the Last Post at the War Memorial at sunset on the centenary of each of these dates. We are inviting members of their families to lay wreathes at the same time.

Join the Bonfire Boyes

The Bonfire Boyes have over 100 members and is one of the biggest societies in Winchelsea. Some members are more active than others but all want to show their support for the bonfire tradition in the town and all the other events organised by the Bonfire Boyes. The annual subscription is just £1. To join, call 224446. 

Fund-raising 2014

  • Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston in concert --- Friday 9 May 2014 Mrs Haddock's Sea Food Evening --- Saturday 5 July 2014
  • Rain Or Shine Theatre company outdoor performance of Treasure Island --- Saturday 9 August 2014
  • Hog Roast --- Saturday 24 August 2014
  • War Horse: readings by Michael Morpurgo accompanied by John Tam --- Saturday 18 October 2014
  • Winchelsea Mummers --- Sunday 4 January 2015


The pikemen escorting the Guy through Winchelsea

The other Guy at Winchelsea


We need lots of volunteers to build the bonfire, carry torches, dress up and marshall the procession. Bonfire building starts at Rookery Field about 10:00am on the morning of Bonfire Night. We hold our AGM at lunchtime by the bonfire. Wear old clothes and wellies, and bring gardening or working gloves, if you have them.

Winchelsea Bonfire Boye silhouetted against bonfire

Volunteers are even more welcome to help clear up on the day after Bonfire Night. We start at about 10:00am.

Guy Fawkes

Paying for Bonfire Night

The Bonfire Boyes need about £3,000 to pay for fireworks, insurance and other expenses (see our latest annual accounts). This money comes from a collection held on Bonfire Night and several fund-raising events during the year: Curry Night in February/March, Asparagus Evening in May or Sea Food Evening in June/July, the Hog Roast in July/August, outdoor Shakespeare in August, a carol concert accompanied by Sussex Brass in December and sometimes a Christmas play in December/January. We also stage a number of folk concerts throughout the year. We occasionally receive grants for equipment (see below). 

Organising Bonfire Night

An awful lot of hard work goes into organising Bonfire Night. Notifications have to be given to the Ambulance Service, English Heritage, Natural England, the Environmental Health Department of Rother District Council, the Fire and Rescue Service and various units of Sussex Police. A written risk assessment and proof of insurance cover has to be provided to some agencies.

Bonfire cart and drums at rest

Great care is taken to ensure the safety of participants and spectators. The procession and bonfire are well marshalled, and the firework display is managed by professionals, who are separately insured, produce their own risk assessment, ensure that safe distances (as specified in DTI guidance) are placed between the audience and the firework display, and that debris falls away from the village. We also have a child protection policy. Residents are reminded to expect noise in advance of the event.

Thank you for grants

The Bonfire Boyes have been lucky enough to secure grants from generous donors for equipment, including drums. We should like to thank the O2 Community Foundation and the Sussex Community Foundation

Logo of the O2 Community Foundation, a grant-giver to the Winchelsea Bonfire Boyes

Logo of Sussex Community Foundation: grant-giver to the Winchelsea Bonfire Boyes